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Thursday, August 1, 2013
Analysis of Pope Francis's First Encyclical in Light of Catholic Tradition
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Is Pope Francis' first encyclical, Lumen fidei, in line with Tradition? DICI examines the text and gives some conclusions.  The following is directly quoted from that source.

Lumen fidei [published on June 29, 2013] claims to be “in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced”;  thus there is an explicit reference—but only in a footnote—to Chapter 3 of the Constitution Dei Filius of the First Vatican Council (no. 7, note 7).  It is also about the “faith [that is] received from God as a supernatural gift” (no. 4), and it specifies that faith is a “theological” and “supernatural” virtue given by God (no. 7). Similarly we read:
Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity” (no. 48); not a single article of the Creed can be denied;  there is a need for vigilance to ensure that the deposit of faith is passed on “in its entirety (no. 48).
But those are the only traces of the traditional teaching.

All the rest of the Encyclical buries these all-too-rare allusions in a context that is quite foreign to them. This context connects the idea of faith with the idea of experience and personal encounter, which establishes a relation between man and God, without making it clear whether this is the intellectual relation of knowledge[1] or the affective relation of love.[2] Nor is it very clear whether this personal encounter corresponds to the profound requirements of nature or whether it surpasses them by introducing man into a specifically supernatural order.[3] The problem is compounded by the failure to cite the classical notions of natural and supernatural in describing this relation: it is above all a question of existence.[4]

The central idea is that faith is first of all existential, the product of an encounter with the living God that reveals love and leads to communion (no. 4, no. 8).  It is essentially dynamic, openness to the promise of God and memory of [that promise about] the future (no. 9), openness to love (no. 21, no. 34), attachment to the source of life and of all fatherhood (no. 11), an experience of love (no. 47)…. It consists of “the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call” (no. 13).

There is no definition of what a theological virtue is, and the reader will search in vain for a specific definition of the three theological virtues, which consequently are mixed up. Never is faith related to the authority of God who reveals (the word “authority” appears once, in no. 55, but in reference to another subject). The revealed deposit of faith is mentioned only in no. 48, but it is not defined—particularly the fact that it was completed at the death of the last apostle.

No. 18 recalls that “Christian faith is faith in the incarnation of the Word and his bodily resurrection; it is faith in a God who is so close to us that he entered our human history.” But it must be admitted that it is quite difficult to recite the act of faith on the basis of the considerations proposed here, according to which faith relies not on the authority of God who can neither deceive nor be deceived, but rather on the “utter reliability of God’s love” (no. 17), and on the reliability of Jesus “based… on his divine sonship” (ibid.). In other words: I believe in God because he is love and not because he is truthful.

We find in footnote 23 an excerpt from Dei Verbum that speaks about “[willing assent] to the revelation given by God”, which requires
the grace of God, anticipating it and assisting it, as well as the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, and opens the eyes of the mind and makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth (no. 29).
Yet further on the Encyclical reads:
The creed does not only involve giving one’s assent to a body of abstract truths; rather, when it is recited the whole of life is drawn into a journey towards full communion with the living God (no. 45).
The necessity of faith in order to be saved is presented in a non-directive manner: the beginning of salvation is “openness to something prior to ourselves, to a primordial gift that affirms life and sustains it in being” (no. 19). Or else:  “Faith in Christ brings salvation because in him our lives become radically open” (no. 20). This is far from the Gospel clarity:
Go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creation.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved:  but he that believeth not shall be condemned (Mark 16:15-16).
On the contrary, no. 34 says:
The light of love proper to faith can illumine the questions of our own time about truth…. As a truth of love, it is not one that can be imposed by force; it is not a truth that stifles the individual. Since it is born of love, it can penetrate to the heart, to the personal core of each man and woman. Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others.
Incidentally, one might wonder about the catechetical effectiveness of the definition of the Decalogue given in no. 46:
The Decalogue is not a set of negative commands, but concrete directions for emerging from the desert of the selfish and self-enclosed ego in order to enter into dialogue with God.
In short, faith, as it is presented in Lumen fidei, is first of all an experience of life and of love, fully realized in the “encounter with Christ” (no. 30): “Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment” (no. 26). Jesus is said to be the one savior because “all God’s light is concentrated in him, in his ‘luminous life’ which discloses the origin and the end of history” (no. 35)….

It is much too early to propose, based on a first encyclical, a key to reading the teaching of Pope Francis; the next encyclical—which is said to be dedicated to poverty—will be more personal and will enlighten us more precisely. We will simply be so bold as to point out that Lumen fidei is indeed in line with post-conciliar teaching. Vatican II wanted to open up the Church to the modern world, which is characterized by its rejection of the argument from authority. Thus the Council claimed to be pastoral, avoiding all dogmatic definition so as not to give the impression of coercing contemporary minds.

From this perspective, the considerations on faith in Lumen fidei are somewhat reminiscent of what the immanentist philosopher Maurice Blondel wrote:
If faith increases our knowledge, it is not initially and principally inasmuch as it teaches us certain objective truths by authorized testimony, but rather inasmuch as it unites us to the life of a subject, inasmuch as it initiates us, through loving thought, to another thought and another love. (M. Blondel in A. Lalande, Dictionnaire technique et critique de la philosophie [Paris: PUF, 1968], 360, emphasis added.)
It is not learning objective truths, but becoming united to the life of a subject and being initiated by loving thought to another thought and another love. Hence a problem arises: how can one be content to propose to modern minds, which are smitten with autonomy, what the authority of divine revelation imposes on us? And how can we do this without giving the impression to those minds that the authority of divine revelation is contrary to their aspirations to autonomy? And without diluting the revealed deposit itself either or diminishing its authority? These are the difficulties with which the Magisterium has been struggling for fifty years.

In a recent article, Fr. Jean-Dominique, O.P., recalls the interest with which the Protestants of Taize welcomed the non-dogmatic teaching of Vatican II:
The Council’s intention is to drop an excessively static and notional language so as to adopt resolutely a dynamic, living language. This whole magnificent document [Dei Verbum, the conciliar document on Revelation—Editor’s note] will consider Revelation as the living Word that the living God addresses to the living Church composed of living members…. This whole document on Revelation will be dominated by the foundational evangelical themes of word, life and communion.  The Word of God, is the living Christ whom God gives to mankind so as to establish between him and them the communion of the Spirit in the Church.
Thus the Church gave up “speaking about the acceptance of revelation in terms of submission to authority” so as to speak primarily about a “personal faith that accepts God’s revelation” (Roger Schutz and Max Thurian, La Parole vivante au Concile [Les Presses de Taize, 1966], 77-78, cited by Fr. Jean-Dominique, “Concile ou révolution?” in Le Chardonnet [July 2013]: 6).

This intention no longer to resort to dogmatic definitions is deplored by the Declaration of the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X dated June 27, 2013:
We are truly obliged to observe that this Council without comparison, which wanted to be merely pastoral and not dogmatic, inaugurated a new type of magisterium, hitherto unheard of in the Church, without roots in Tradition; a magisterium resolved to reconcile Catholic doctrine with liberal ideas; a magisterium imbued with the modernist ideas of subjectivism, of immanentism and of perpetual evolution according to the false concept of a living tradition [which is also found in the writings of Maurice Blondel—Editor’s note], vitiating  the nature, the content, the role and the exercise of ecclesiastical magisterium.”  (See DICI no. 278, dated July 5, 2013).
(DICI no. 279 dated July 19, 2013)

Footnotes

[1] Recall: Faith  is defined as the adherence of our intellect to the truths revealed by God, because of the authority of God who reveals them. The spiritual life has faith as its principle, which receives from revelation its properly intellectual and therefore conceptual knowledge of the mystery. Without denying the fact that faith must be enriched by charity and flourish in loving knowledge, we must firmly maintain that, in order to be united in the actual spiritual life, faith and charity must remain formally distinct in their definition, in the eyes of the Magisterium and of theology.

[2] “Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history” (no. 13). “Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps. Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes” (no. 26). “Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps. Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes” (no. 32).

[3] “The life of faith, as a filial existence, is the acknowledgment of a primordial and radical gift which upholds our lives. We see this clearly in St. Paul’s question to the Corinthians: ‘What have you that you did not receive?’ (1 Cor 4:7)” (no. 19). Does this refer to the gift of creation or to the gift of grace? “In accepting the gift of faith, believers become a new creation; they receive a new being, as God’s children”; this is well put, but it does not specify whether this newness is part of the natural order and in continuity with creation or whether it surpasses it.

[4] “The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence” (no. 4). “For those early Christians, faith, as an encounter with the living God revealed in Christ, was indeed a ‘mother’, for it had brought them to the light and given birth within them to divine life, a new experience and a luminous vision of existence for which they were prepared to bear public witness to the end” (no. 5). “The Second Vatican Council enabled the light of faith to illumine our human experience from within, accompanying the men and women of our time on their journey. It clearly showed how faith enriches life in all its dimensions” (no. 6). “Thus wonderfully interwoven, faith, hope and charity are the driving force of the Christian life as it advances towards full communion with God” (no. 7). “Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history” (no. 13). “The beginning of salvation is openness to something prior to ourselves, to a primordial gift that affirms life and sustains it in being” (no. 19). “Those who believe are transformed by the Love to which they have opened their hearts in faith. By their openness to this offer of primordial Love, their lives are enlarged and expanded” (no. 21). “The realization that God is light provided Augustine with a new direction in life and enabled him to acknowledge his sinfulness and to turn towards the good” (no. 33).

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